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Migrants test Canada's 'very welcoming' nature

Public opinion is mounting against the Canadian government as it tries to cope with the processing of 492 Tamil migrants who arrived in British Columbia on an old cargo ship as refugees.

Leger Marketing found that five out of six Canadians want the government to reject the arrivals who say they are from Sri Lanki and send them home.

Canada is proceeding with its customary humanitarian U.N.-dictated action of welcoming the migrants and offering them a hearing to determine if they are true refugees.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the people are being investigated to determine if there are "human smugglers or terrorists" among them.

An unused hospital wing was opened to examine the migrants, who paid up to $48,000 each for the voyage and are being housed and fed at Canadian cost.

They could be released, as others have before, to await immigration hearings that could take several years. Many want to go to Toronto to be with relatives.

Canada is "very welcoming" of refugees but the government "must ensure that our refugee system is not hijacked by criminals or terrorists," Toews said.

New tax sends prices up for consumers

Consumer prices were higher across Canada last month largely due to the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia. The tax combines the provincial sales tax with the federal goods and services tax.

Prices rose 1.8 percent after a 1 percent jump in June, Statistics Canada reported. The largest gains were in Ontario (2.9 percent) and British Columbia (2 percent).

July's inflation rate fell to 1.6 percent from 1.7 percent, raising speculation the Bank of Canada will take a pause in tightening interest rates after another hike of 0.25 percent next month.

In British Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled a challenge against the harmonized tax can proceed. Former Premier Bill Vander Zalm collected a 700,000-signature petition against the 12 percent tax.

News in brief

• Canada has a new foreign policy on the Far North, for which the country believes it holds a territorial claim, in advance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit this week. Harper said the protection and promotion of Canada's sovereignty in the arctic is a "nonnegotiable priority." An international effort is under way to map the arctic, which holds large deposits of resources including oil, gas and minerals.

• British Columbia is back in the online gaming business after glitches caused the playnow.com site to be sidelined after players got a little too lucky. The glitch let some players gamble with other people's money on the site that's said to be the first in North America to offer legal casino-style games. Ontario is also planning to launch online gambling in 2012.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar is lower at 96.38 cents U.S., while the U.S. dollar returned $1.0485 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is unchanged at 0.75 percent, while the prime lending rate is 2.75 percent.

Canadian stock markets were higher Friday, with the Toronto exchange index at 11,717 points and the TSX Venture Exchange at 1,470 points.

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Regional briefs

• There are air-quality warnings in three western provinces as smoke from British Columbia wildfires drifts eastward. Environment Canada said this has affected the air in metro Vancouver, British Columbia's Fraser Valley, central Alberta and as far east as Saskatchewan.

• Councilor Rob Ford, the frontrunner to become Toronto's next mayor, admitted to being arrested in Miami in 1999 on charges of driving under the influence and marijuana possession. He first denied it, but "set the record straight" after a reporter found the police report. Ford said he had forgotten about it. He was fined $500 for failing to give a breath sample, and the drug charge was dropped.

• Houses and vehicles were given a free washing in St. John, New Brunswick, after a malfunction at an Irving Oil refinery. A problem with a processing unit left parts of the city covered in a gritty dust. Irving Oil said the dust was "nonhazardous" and hired a company to clean houses and cars using mobile wash trucks.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Migrants test Canada's 'very welcoming' nature 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 8:32pm]

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